With today being Christmas Eve, many of us find ourselves doing some last-minute shopping and getting prepared for Christmas Day. The holiday season is a wonderful time of year in which people open their hearts and wallets to spread joy and love to their family, friends and even an occasional stranger. Many of us drop a few dollars in the Salvation Army buckets outside of retail stores, make donations to our local church or take time to volunteer at local homeless centers.
Every year I feel as though I am not prepared for the season. Just as I am recovering from celebrating Thanksgiving, I hear the sound of holiday music on the radio and see the Christmas displays in the stores. Workers are busy putting up lights and ornaments and folks put reindeer antlers on their cars and trucks. I find myself rummaging around to find my outdoor lights and braving the many rungs of my ladder as I hang them on the eves. I eventually sort through the many boxes marked “Christmas” and bring all the decorations and ornaments up from the basement so we can start decorating the tree.
The splendor of the season eventually envelopes me and I find myself humming along to a Bing Crosby favorite and watching “White Christmas” on TV for the hundredth time. With all the special events, chores and gifts to be bought, the big day rapidly approaches and I embrace the celebration with my family and friends. I find myself loving this time of year and wishing it would continue a little longer.
Despite all the commercialization that the season brings, I am reminded as to the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. I do realize that there is no proof that Jesus was born on Dec. 25 and that this date was set by the Roman Catholic Church centuries ago as a Christian holy day. Nonetheless, in Christianity this is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Lord and savior of millions of Christians.
Probably no other overseas trips brought me closer to the true meaning of Christmas than when I travelled to Israel. It was there that I was able to walk on the very stones that Jesus did through the Old City of Jerusalem. I remember lightly touching the walls of this ancient city as I walked through the narrow passages all the while imagining how it must have been more than two thousand years ago. Not only was I able to visit the site where Christ was baptized by John just south of the Sea of Galilee but I saw the place where he was supposedly buried. The tomb where Jesus was laid and from which he arose is located just north of Jerusalem Old City’s Damascus Gate and is tucked away from the noisy city among a peaceful garden. The tomb is located in the side of a long and high rock wall encapsulated within the garden setting. I remember that as I approached the opening I felt a great uneasiness as if trespassing on the holiest of holy ground. But curiosity got the best of me and I crouched through the opening and emerged inside of a small cave. It was inside that I saw the rock bed which Jesus was supposedly laid. Seeing and experiencing the reality of the presence of Jesus in those streets, walkways, gardens and the tomb has helped me to better appreciate, understand and embrace faith.
On the other hand, I have also witnessed places where joining together and practicing Christian faith was something only accomplished in secret. For example, when I was in China several years ago, the only place where Chinese Christians could worship was in “underground churches” secreted away from public spaces. The atheist government there was always quick to crack down on open worship. Thankfully, it seems things are changing there and by 2030, China may have more Christians there than in the U.S.
It is through the remembrance of these experiences that I bring myself back to the true meaning of Christmas each year and place hope in humanity. I sincerely wish each and every one of you a wonderful and joyous Christmas and holiday season this and every year.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours,
Viper One Six – Out.